Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The background work

I'm racing a lot less this summer than I have in past summers, and replacing the time with some solid training blocks. The hope, obviously, is to make myself faster for the races that count. The Laramie races did wipe me out pretty good, and it took a solid week of easy workouts before I felt ready to tackle the quality again. Remind me not to do three hard races at altitude in a row, next time I'm floating that idea. Anyway, it's been a good summer. I'm healthy, and starting to feel really fit. I've been working with my head as well as my body, getting more into mindfulness, meditation, and deliberate practice. If I believe in myself hard enough, that makes up for a lot. I think I can I think I can I think I can!

The numbers for May and June were pretty close between 2015 and 2016, but overall I think the quality is up this summer. I'm a little more settled at my job, figuring out how to balance that better with the rest of life. I've been building my running mileage carefully, and trying to really enter every quality session with the freshest legs I can muster. It's about time for another running race, but the last one (Corporate Challenge) had a Vdot equivalent to my PR, so I'm on track with flat speed (heh). My navigation feels strong right now, though obviously it can always use more work. Since May, I have lost 17:48 minutes in mistakes over 20 orienteering races covering 80km. 13.4 seconds per kilometer that I can pick up, just through navigating with more attention and focus. Sort of a wacky way to calculate navigational acumen, but sometimes you've gotta reach to find any metrics worth measuring with orienteering!

Good training camps mean proper recovery between sessions. 

I swung by the CSU summer camp for ice cream, mini golf, a long run, and more ice cream. Really great group of skiers this year, great cohesion.

I swear one of the most important things we teach them is that ice cream is the ideal recovery food after a long run.

Skiers warming up for their annual Winchendon time trial.

Barb, one of my local heroes, finishing on the podium at the Forest-X race that Ed and I put on. The race was a fun twist of trail running and orienteering, and people seemed to really enjoy it.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Rocky Mountain Orienteering Festival

I believe in race starts. I believe that collecting race starts is the only way to truly prepare yourself for the big show, whatever your big show may be. And the more specific the race start, the better. So, when I looked at the calendar and saw that the only races between Team Trials and the 2016 World Champs were in Laramie, up on the Medecine Bow National Forest plateau, I figured I finally had a good excuse to head to the Rocky Mountain Orienteering Festival. It just so happened that we'd have a good crowd of elite runners there - Ali, Hannah, Tori, Cristina, Sanna, Sarah Jane, and quite a few more. Wow, actually competition at a National Event beyond one or two runners! So despite this trip falling on the heels of a trip to California for Zan's wedding, I was pretty psyched. Not too burned from traveling yet!

But, let's back up. California was awesome, and Zan picked a spot that was so typically Zan - deep in the redwoods as you go north up the coast from San Francisco, with beautiful trails for running. We had a really great time playing on the other coast, but it was hardly a restful weekend. Sometimes fun is worth the energy price! 

Our view driving back south on Sunday. There were all these seals hanging out on the beach down there, and as the waves came in they'd flop their way toward the inland water, in the most ungainly fashion. 

Mendocino headlands. Gorgeous and misty and sunny at the same time. 

Zan may have left some details to the last minute. Like a bar tender. Who needs a bar tender at a wedding? She had plans for all sorts of delicious cocktails, so luckily Ed and Blaine were willing to sacrifice their afternoon to mixing up the cocktails, and their evening to serving the thirsty guests. Ed was in his element, but I don't think he'll be picking this up as an evening job. 

We went on some really nice runs from the camp. Sometimes just us, sometimes just me, sometimes with lots of friends. The redwoods were so awesome. And make such cool bridges!

The wedding venue, at high noon. The camp was in this valley with very steep sides, and light only filtered down during the middle of the day. It made for some dark mornings, but also incredibly peaceful and relaxing. 

If I'd planned things better, I would have stayed in California for the week, working from our Oakland office, and traveled home via Wyoming. But, I didn't think about that until it was too late. And, to make it worse, I bought myself a ticket to Denver for the first weekend in August instead of the first weekend of July. So, when I got to the airport with about an hour before my flight, I couldn't figure out why I couldn't check in yet. D'oh!

Luckily, this fell into the solvable category of problems. Friday was a late night, but I met up with Hannah and Kevin at the airport, and we made it up to Fort Collins, chez Anna and Sasha and Ada, by 12:30 in the morning. Six hours of sleep, and now it's time to race!

The Medicine Bow NF is at 8,000' elevation. I start to notice the effects of elevation around 5,000' when I'm racing, and let's just say that every additional thousand feet is like an additional 10 pounds of bricks on my shoulders and lungs. Thankfully the area is pretty flat, but every contour felt like 10. Just so much wheezing, for so little speed. Not my favorite experience.

The landscape out here is so majestic. With a sky threatening to totally overwhelm you, it's best to keep your focus on the immediate vicinity, just one foot after another, avoid tripping over the sage brush. The terrain is wide open, occasional ponderosa pine but mostly grassland and sage, dotted with cattle and giant granite rock piles. It sort of looked like a giant had pooped all over the low hills, and left the piles there to calcify. But with such a wide viewpoint, the navigation is much easier than in my familiar eastern forests. The race was about how fast could you get from point A to B.

The first race was at Twin Boulders. I did run past the eponymous rocks, and while they were impressive, I'm not sure I would have named an entire map after them. But it did seem fitting that there was a control nestled between the big boulders. My race was fine - nothing special, nothing terrible. I was working very, very, hard, and felt like I was trying to run through molasses, so much effort for so little speed. The navigation came easily to me, and I made very few mistakes, but I didn't have the legs to perform how I'd hoped. I ended up in third, well behind Ali and about two minutes behind Hannah, with two M-40s who'd snuck ahead of me.

The red course on day 1. Click for larger. The route choices were not terribly inspiring, leading to the "straight is great!" philosophy of orienteering. I did take the trail from 5-6, figuring it would be faster for me. 

Spectators at the go control.

Remarkable Flats
The second race was at Remarkable Flats, an area of wide open grassland with lots of those rock-poop-piles scattered around. There were also even more cattle, many of whom were hanging out in between the final control and the finish. Luckily, I never had to contend with any cows who'd been separated from their babies, but it did give me pause to see them eyeing me. Eep.

Like the first day, the navigation was relatively easy, and the course was straightforward without much trickery. I wheezed my way around, feeling so much like the asthmatic fat kid. About halfway through, Ali caught up to me, and she is both acclimated and faster than me at sea level, and there was just no hanging on, though god knows I tried. So much effort! This time I fell back a spot, to fourth place, as Tori jumped ahead of both Hannah and myself by about a minute. I was one second behind Hannah, so definitely kicking myself that I didn't have one more second's worth of oomph out there, but hey, that's racing.

Diamond Bay
The final day was adjacent to Remarkable Flats, but with considerably more ponderosa forest and less open grassland. I was hoping for more of a navigational challenge, but the course was again pretty straightforward, with similar-length legs making a general loop around the map. I woke up to discover that my body was just done with racing. I couldn't kick the altitude headache, and was feeling sick to my stomach for most of the run. I couldn't even push myself into wheeze-mode, body just wouldn't let my brain handle the override codes.

That was disappointing, but it was still a pretty awesome place to be orienteering. I lumbered along even slower than the first two days, trying to enjoy the day even though I would have loved the challenge that comes with higher speed. Lots of rock and nobbly little hills, and I have to admit that at least the downhill portions were enjoyable. I struggled mightily on the long gradual uphill to #12, slogging along in the sun and just wishing the course could be over. Eventually it was, and I had ended up in third place again, behind Ali and Hannah, but this time with many more men in front of me. Overall, this was good enough to hang onto third place, and I got a sweet refrigerator magnet.


Upon dropped a few thousand feet, I felt much better. Enough pep to go for a short hike with Hannah and Kevin and Will, and then, thanks to my new plane ticket configuration, I got to spend the evening and much of the next day with Anna and Sasha. By the time I arrived in Boston at 3am on Wednesday, though, I was pretty done. Can I please just sleep forever? 

The old X-Talons taking me for a spin. We swung by Arthur's Rock on our way back to Fort Collins, and it provided us with a very nice little leg stretcher.

Most of the plateau looks like this.

Anna and Ada came up for a walk at Happy Jack! Ada is dangerously mobile, but very cute.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Mt. Greylock Trail Race

The other weekend was my first Grand Tree race of the year – the Greylock Trail race! This is a great course, testing all aspects of trail racing. Sustained uphills, technical downhills, fun singletrack, and some grinding false flats. Not to say I like any of this aside from the technical downhills, but I do think it’s good to push myself on terrain that isn’t naturally my favorite. And having the two past years of data to compare myself always satisfies my inner nerd.

I headed out with a small group of junior skiers, like last year, for a combined Massachusetts Team training weekend. Perry and the Berkshire Nordic crew led us on a really nice little ski in Savoy (oh, I’ll miss that trail race this year! Huge bummer that it’s done), on very nice pavement with wide shoulders. We don’t have that in eastern MA, and it made me miss NY state rollerskiing adventures. We followed this up with some cliff jumping, yoga, pizza, and s’mores, so all in all it was a pretty idyllic day.

Sunday dawned pretty hot, and I was cursing myself for not bringing my handheld waterbottle carrier. I debated running with a waist belt, or just carrying the bottle outright, but decided that it probably wouldn’t be THAT bad to just drink at the aid stations. Oops. Only one other of my juniors was doing the long race, and one dad, the rest signed up for the 5k. Ed did the long race, of course!
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We started out up the mountain, and I took it easy, falling into a comfortable pace. Too comfortable, really. I felt good, which is not actually a good sign on a 3-mile climb! My calves were behaving, and as we hit the AT in the sun I found that I had some more gears, so started to pick off some runners ahead of me. I could hear Debbie behind me, so I knew I was doing ok if she hadn’t passed me on the climb. I was starting to notice the heat, though, already getting dry mouth, so I told myself I had to get on top of this hydration issue as soon as I hit that aid station.

I drank 3 cups of water and 2 cups of Gatorade. You can imagine how long this took. I was there nearly a minute! Debbie passed me with a couple ladies in tow, and as I started out after them I realized the magnitude of my mistake. Not only did I not have any water for between the aid stations, I had to do all my descending on a very sloshy belly. You doofus!

Luckily the sloshing didn’t turn into a dreaded stomach cramp, and I caught back up to Debbie (who was definitely not pleased to be passed on a downhill! Sorry babe, I do that part pretty well) and a bunch more ladies on the descent. Apparently I just missed seeing a moose – I heard noise behind me but had assumed it was a runner, and was totally in race-mode, don’t look back!

A girl in pink caught back up at the second aid station, as I spent another minute drinking, and I let her go a bit, just trying to enjoy that next bit of singletrack at my own pace. I was consciously keeping myself in a very happy spot, just loving these trails and dancing my feet across the roots. I caught up easily along Jones’ Nose, but decided to hang out behind her for a bit, and try to recover. The heat was getting to me, and I could feel the fatigue creep.

At the third water stop, pink-girl didn’t stop, and I only drank 3 cups of water, thus only losing maybe 30 seconds, then shoved ice into any orifice I could find and set off to chase down pink-girl. I luckily caught her while still on the downhill, and we climbed together for a bit on the relentless loose-rock doubletrack. Eventually my slow jog started to outdistance hers, and I found myself picking off bonking men again. We finally started the downhill, and I could tell I was tired – both ankles were doing those danger-rolls – not quite a rolled ankle, but near misses. I backed off a little, not willing to risk injury, and just feeling kind of fragile. Couple times I had to remind myself out loud to have strong feet. Unfortunately I couldn’t hold off the ankle-roll demons forever, and went over on my right ankle just where it gets steep with ~1.5mi to go. So close to the end I knew I could walk this off, but I was not happy about that turn of events.

It was only a minute or two that I was walking and then gingerly running, but that was a much slower finish than I've had before. I was in no-man’s land, and thankfully didn't get passed by anyone in the last mile of the race. The relaxed finish put me just a minute ahead of last year (which had been super slow in the rain and wet), but 4 minutes behind the year before. I think I can attribute most of that to the water stops and then the ankle roll slow-down, so I’m actually feeling pretty good about this one. I was second, four minutes behind a little J2 skier from western MA who I coached last year at EHS, who goes up hills like it's her job. She probably got to the top of that thing in under 30 minutes…

Next up is the Rocky Mountain Orienteering Festival! Time to see if I remember how to race at altitude!